Basically, nobody knows what to do about teenagers and sexting. Except perhaps the teenagers themselves
If you’re under the age of 18 and take a naked photo of yourself, you could be at risk of a criminal record.
Incidentally, if you’re under the age of 18 and take a naked photo of yourself, you’re also at risk of a lot of other things, such as general humiliation if you accidentally send it to your best mate / brother / mum. Or the danger that it could end up in many worse hands. And by hands, we mean the internet. Where the whole world can see it.
But you knew all of that anyway, right?
A criminal record, however? Well, that’s just… unexpected.
But it’s what’s actually happening around the world. In the UK, a 14-year-old girl and two 14-year-old boys have all had their details added to police databases after sharing a naked photo between themselves. The photo was taken by one of the boys in question – he then snapchatted it to the girl, and she screenshot it, before sharing it around the school. Eventually, parents and teachers got involved. And then it came to the attention of the police, who – because of a loophole in the law that means anybody under the age of 18 who takes a naked photo and sends it to a friend can be charged with creating indecent images of children – recorded it as a crime.
The boy in question says he’s ‘humiliated’ by the events, and finds it difficult to accept that ‘something that I did when I was 14 that could reflect badly in the future’.
Meanwhile, a few thousand miles away in Chicago, two underage teenagers are also being investigated after a girl took a naked selfie and sent it to her boyfriend. He promptly showed it to his friends, and – to cut a very long, and very anger-inducing story short – it spread so widely, that the police got involved again. And again, both the girl who took the photo of herself, and the boy who distributed it, are being investigated.
The thing is, if you’re over the age of 16, you’re legally allowed to have sex. Meaning that two 16-year-olds could have sex, and face no legal consequences. But if they exchange topless photos of one another, they could be charged with child pornography.
And while child pornography is incredibly serious – and should be treated accordingly – we really need to update the law to reference the fact that a 16-year-old girl’s naked selfie, sent with consent to another teenage boy, is totally different to an image of a 16-year-old girl being taken or sent to somebody significantly older.
Clearly, something needs to be done to protect teens from their naked photos ending up in the wrong hands. But is policing the way they express their sexuality the way to do so? Of course, the idea of teenagers sexting naked pictures among themselves is generally terrifying, but it screams of naivete more than anything else. And rather than punishing them with a damaging criminal record, surely – surely – we should be prioritising their education instead.